Service projects, not beaches, on spring break

Spring break usually means weeklong trips to the sandy beaches of Cancun, Florida and Texas. But for many UNI students, spring break meant giving back to communities and participating in service trips to inner cities in the U.S and Mexico.

UNI students cleaning up a neighborhood in PhiladelphiaCedar Valley churches organized 12 service trips for college students from UNI and other area colleges and universities. The students built for Habitat For Humanity in New York City; re-built dormitories at God's Mountain Christian Camp in Missouri; worked with the victims of the Haitian earthquake; partnered with Urban Hope Training Center and Community Church in Philadelphia; led high school students on a church mission trip to Colorado; and worked with 60 children at a children's home in Tijuana, Mexico.

When asked why students chose to spend a week doing community service, responses included, "wanting to be a positive influence and encouragement to other students," "a much better use of my free time," "wanting to take a stance toward change," "wanting to help children," wanting to get my hands dirty doing hard work to help a cause," and "wanting to be a part of a family and community experience."

Taryn Parker, a junior public relations major, from Gurnee, Ill., spent the week at Urban Hope, an organization that offers cross-cultural training and urban ministry, working with poor families and the homeless. The work wasn't glamorous but it was rewarding -- from cleaning the streets, to fixing the Urban Hope facility, to visiting with and feeding the homeless, to working with youth at the Boys and Girls Club. Everywhere they served, people were grateful.

"We all wanted to break stereotypes and get out of our comfort zones, and I think that anyone on the trip would agree that this was definitely accomplished," said Parker. "It gave me the tools and the motivation I needed to really take a look at where I am in my life and where I want to be."

Emily Hurd, a senior elementary education major from Marshalltown, Iowa, and the social justice peer minister at St. Stephen Student Center, joined 12 other UNI students on a trip to Tijuana, Mexico, to work at El Faro, a children's home for 60 children who are orphans or whose families are too poor to care for them. 

Children in Haiti"This experience was especially appealing to me because I am an education major and I believe that all children are our future," she said. "Any chance I can help children in need or those who do not get the love they deserve, I want to help."

Heather Brown, a senior was supposed to go to Haiti on a mission trip earlier this year with her mom and other community members, however, the earthquake caused them to postpone their trip to early March.

"The people in Haiti are so grateful for the smallest things that we think nothing of, and they always want to give something back to you, even though they have nothing."

Brown spent her time working with different bible schools, hosting a women's conference, teaching an English class and helping where needed.

Brown summarized her experiences saying "We learned more from the Haitian people than we were teaching them." A common theme among many UNI students who spent their spring break in service to others.

Did you know...

Faculty, staff and students volunteered nearly 300,000 hours of service during the 2008-2009 school year to local schools, non-profits and businesses to better serve our communities and enhance educational opportunities for students.

The Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley partners with UNI to share volunteer opportunities with faculty, staff and students.  For more information visit

UNI Home Page and This is UNI Home Photo: Emily Hurd and UNI students at El Faro serving a meal to nearly 1,000 people.

Top: UNI students clean up a junk yard in Philadelphia

Bottom: The children in Haiti love getting their picture taken and enjoy "seeing" the picture on the camera